BAGHDAD, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- The prime minister of Iraq Sunday said at least 50,000 non-existent soldiers have been collecting salaries from the country's military, revealing corruption in Iraqi ranks that some say led to the army's collapse against extremists over the summer.
In a speech to parliament, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi noted an investigation that revealed the existence of 50,000 "ghost soldiers," or names that are on Ministry of Defense payrolls but are not real soldiers who muster for duty.
Experts say the practice is perpetrated by corrupt Iraqi army officers who inflate personnel numbers and pocket the extra money. As well, some commanders collect the pay of soldiers who go missing or are killed but are not reported as such.
In other cases, ghost soldiers are on call for inspections to prove personnel numbers, but are sent home a majority of the time. Officers and soldiers with this arrangement split the salary.
"The salary of a ghost soldier is around 1 million dinars a month [about $800], and about $400 goes into the pockets of the officers," Arkan Hussein, an accountant for a military base south of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor. "If an officer has at least 10 of these ghosts, he would get about $5,000 per month, not to mention other officers who hide dozens of ghost soldiers, in addition to other salaries and privileges that the leaders benefit from."
The number of ghost soldiers found in the recent investigation is almost equal to the strength of four divisions. Aside from sectarian complexities, corruption in Iraqi military ranks has been blamed for the collapse of four of the Iraqi army's 14 divisions when Islamic State militants went on the offensive in June.
Al-Abadi said future inspections would uncover even more ghost soldiers. The successor to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Al-Abadi has been under pressure from the U.S. to build a lighter, more efficient military force.
The Pentagon proposed a $1.6 billion budget to train and equip Kurdish peshmerga, Sunni tribal forces against the Islamic State, and the Iraqi military, which would receive the largest allotment at $1.2 billion.
Between 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, and 2011, when it withdrew from the country, the U.S. spent $20 billion training and equipping Iraqi security forces.